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But knowing that the woman who called herself my mother was lying to me, knowing that Rachel’s father, Jared, brought regular reports about me to my father in Rowansmark and never respected me enough to tell me the truth, and wondering if Oliver, the closest thing I ever had to a father in Baalboden, knew my secrets all along and only looked after me to protect the Commander’s investment—I can’t adjust to that. I can barely stand to look it in the eye.
The foundation on which I built my life is lying in pieces around me, but I can’t stop to put it back together. I have a prison break to engineer, an innocent city to protect, a murderer to track down, and two power-hungry leaders who need to be stopped. Personal reflection will have to wait.
“I wouldn’t say that we don’t have any weapons,” Willow says.
I jerk to a stop and whip my head toward Willow’s cell. By leaning against my cell door, I can just see her. She’s crouched against the front corner of her cell, her back pressing against the iron bars that lock her in. With deft movements, she unties the leather strap that binds her long, dark braid and slowly pulls it free. My eyes widen. A length of thin silver wire is attached to the end of the strap and is woven into her braid. She holds her braid secure and tugs until nearly half a yard of wire slides out of her hair and lies in her lap.
“Brilliant,” I breathe.
“Agreed.” Willow coils the wire around her left wrist and secures the loose end against the leather tie. It looks like she’s wearing a simple silver bracelet, but I have no trouble imagining the kind of havoc Willow can wreak with that length of wire.
“Have I told you recently that I’m grateful you and Quinn decided to stay with our group instead of trying to find another Tree Village to join? I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Willow flashes me a smug little smile, and I make myself smile back, but inside, my desperation is growing. One weapon alone won’t help us fix this. I need tech, supplies, people . . . a plan.
And I don’t have a single workable idea.
The soldier picks up two lengths of chain and strides down the corridor toward our cells. Our five minutes are up.
“If you’re going to make a plan, you’d better think fast,” Willow says as the soldier stops before my cell, a heavy iron key in his hand.
I run through my options as the man opens my door, wraps chains around my wrists, and then puts a matching set on Willow while she gives him a look that would drop a lesser man to his knees. He doesn’t give the silver “bracelet” on her wrist a second glance.
Best Case Scenario: I think of a way out of this before we reach the courtroom, and no one dies.
Worst Case Scenario: Everything else.
My stomach cramps as Willow and I, flanked by another pair of Lankenshire soldiers, follow the man through the long stone hallways that lead from the dungeon to the courtroom.
Short of cutting myself and the device in half and giving a piece to both Rowansmark and the Commander, I can’t think of a single way to keep this city and the Baalboden survivors who followed me across the Wasteland—survivors who are family to me now—safe.
“What’s the plan?” Willow whispers as we turn a corner and begin climbing a set of steep steps carved into the stone. The torches that bracket the stairway are lit, their golden light gleaming against her dark hair as she looks at me.
“Um . . .”
“You don’t have one, do you?”
I shake my head and force myself to think smarter. Faster. Rowansmark needs to believe that Lankenshire is turning me over to them, or they’ll use the beacons. The Commander needs to believe that I’ll be in his custody by dawn, or he’ll attack the city.
And I need to be out in the Wasteland, free of them both, so that I can track down Rachel and Quinn.
“Do you have a plan yet?” Willow asks as we leave the stairs behind and enter a spacious corridor with white marble floors that sparkle beneath bronze gas lamps. A bank of wide windows to the right lets in the brilliant light of the setting sun.
Rachel has been missing for three hours now. Three hours is a decent head start in the Wasteland, but I know I can catch up.
I will catch up.
“Logan!” Willow shakes her bound hands in front of my face, the iron chain links slapping together harshly. When I meet her eyes, she leans close and says through gritted teeth, “We’re about to walk into that courtroom. What. Is. The. Plan?”
Panic shoots through my stomach and somehow lands in my chest, where it feels like a vise is slowly crushing me.
I don’t have a plan. I don’t have a single viable scenario. All I have is desperation and the terrible fear that I’m about to fail everyone I love.
The soldier leading us stops abruptly and motions to a narrow door situated between two bronze gas lamps. “You two wait in here until it’s time for the trial to start.” His eyes meet mine, and he lowers his voice. “And I certainly hope that in the time since you told me you were ‘working on it,’ you’ve come up with something, because in about two minutes, you’re going to need to explain it to the one person who can make it happen.”